EDF Health

Lead from a new “lead-free” brass faucet? More common than you’d hope

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.

Until NSF/ANSI 61 standard is updated to reduce or eliminate lead leaching, users must extensively clean and flush new brass fixtures before use and make a short flush standard practice for older fixtures.

During this past year, we undertook a pilot project to tackle the problem of lead in drinking water at child care facilities. As part of the effort, we collected 250 mL samples (about 8 ounces of water) from every drinking water fixture, as recommended in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 3Ts guidance for schools and child care facilities. We replaced 26 faucets that exceeded our action level with new brass faucets that were labeled “lead-free” and complied with NSF/ANSI 61 standard for drinking water system components.[1] To our surprise, when we sampled the faucets a few days after replacement, the lead levels were higher– between 9 and 10 ppb – on three of the new faucets.

The increase left us scratching our heads. Federal law allows a drinking water fixture to be labeled “lead-free” if the amount of lead in wetted surfaces[2] averages less than 0.25% (down from the 8% limit between 1986 and 2014). However, it isn’t clear how much this amount might contribute to levels of lead in water. To explore this issue, we contacted the supplier who said its product was certified under NSF/ANSI 61 and, therefore, not likely the source. The supplier suggested the source could be from existing upstream valves or from disturbing the plumbing. We could not rule these other possibilities out.

A study by Virginia Tech’s Jeff Parks on three models of new NSF/ANSI 61 certified brass faucets found similar results and concluded that even newly manufactured “lead-free” faucets may not meet the 1 ppb limit that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends for schools.

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FDA-approved PFAS: A serious breakdown in assessing food additive safety

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Independent Consultant

This blog is the fourth in a series describing information we discovered in reviewing thousands of pages from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of the agency’s approval of 31 Food Contact Substance Notifications (FCNs) from 2002 to 2016 submitted by six companies for 19 distinct chemical mixtures of per- and poly-fluorinated substances (PFAS).

In this blog, we identify one company’s serious breach of its obligation to provide FDA with all relevant toxicology data. While hindsight is 20/20, we have reason to believe that if FDA had had all relevant information, it would have demanded more studies potentially revealing risks that are only now coming to light with related chemicals. Though we have not completed a similar review for the other companies, we think this inadequate approach to chemical safety is not unique to a single company, and FDA should reassess all its reviews given what is now known about PFAS chemicals.

Safety assessment requirements for food additives – including food contact substances

When a company seeks FDA’s approval of food additives (including food contact substances), it is required to provide the agency with all relevant chemistry, toxicology and environmental data so it can conduct a safety assessment. While the agency typically conducts a literature search of its own and of public databases, the company that is claiming the chemical’s use is safe is obligated to include any data that is inconsistent with the company’s conclusion.

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EPA Updates its 3Ts Guidance for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water

Lindsay McCormick, is a Project Manager. Tom Neltner, J.D., is the Chemicals Policy Director.

Earlier this month, EPA released its updated 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water Toolkit, which provides guidance for schools and child care facilities seeking to ensure children are safe from lead in water.  The new 3Ts – an update to the agency’s 2006 guidance – is now a web-based toolkit that includes modules, customizable templates, and factsheets.

Overall, the new toolkit is an improvement.  While the protocol itself is largely the same, the new toolkit is more user friendly and written for the non-technical audience, making it more likely that school and child care staff will use it.  EPA has also reframed the toolkit from “Training, Testing, and Telling” to “Training, Testing, and Taking Action” – placing more emphasis on the critical step of addressing lead sources than the previous version.  “Telling” is now integrated throughout the entire toolkit to highlight the importance of communication at every step. The agency has also developed a helpful flushing best practices factsheet, which is a topic that often causes considerable confusion.

In EDF’s June 2018 report on our pilot of 11 child care facilities, “Tackling lead in water at child care facilities,” we recommended EPA update its 2006 guidance to address four key gaps.  The agency has made progress on the two most important of those but leaves the other two unresolved. The most important change to the guidance is that the agency has removed the 20 parts per billion (ppb) action level and instead recommends action whenever there are “elevated lead levels.” While EPA does not define an elevated lead level, a deep dive into the appendix suggests that levels over 5 ppb warrant follow-up. The updated guidance also puts a greater emphasis on the identification of lead service lines (LSLs) and includes LSL replacement as a permanent control measure, though not as an explicit recommendation. Further, the agency did not update the protocol to deal with challenges posed by aerator cleaning and hot water heaters.  Below we explore each of these issues in further detail. Read More »

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Mapping state-level lead service line information: Indiana as a model

Lindsay McCormick, is a Project Manager. Tom Neltner, J.D., is the Chemicals Policy Director.

Developing inventories to document and share what water utilities know – and do not know – about lead service lines (LSLs) with the public is a difficult, but critical, step in creating an effective LSL replacement program.

States can play an important role in collecting estimates of the number of known and potential LSLs for each utility and shaping how that information is communicated to the public. 14 states have surveyed utilities operating community water systems in their state to acquire such information.

States have made this information publicly available through different methods. Some have posted individual utility reports, while others have provided a report summarizing the findings. In analyzing the approaches, we found that no state currently makes the results available in a format that allows the public to easily see the information from multiple utilities.

But in today’s world, people typically expect data to be presented in a visually friendly and digestible format. So as a model, we decided to create a state-level map of LSL information.

Of the 14 states, we found that Indiana has one of the most robust surveys, asking detailed questions about portions of the service line containing lead, information sources checked, and service line ownership on public versus private property.  Further, it has a good response rate for a voluntary survey. While only 57% of systems responded, these systems account for 92% of the LSLs in the state – as most non-respondents were primarily smaller community water systems.

EDF acquired a spreadsheet from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and combined this information with data from EPA’s State Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) to develop a map of LSLs in Indiana as a model.

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American Water demonstrates strong leadership on lead service line replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

In a landmark decision on July 25, 2018, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) approved American Water’s plan to fully replace the lead service lines (LSLs) in the communities served by its Indiana subsidiary over the next 10 to 24 years. This represents the replacement of about 50,000 LSLs across 27 community water systems (CWSs). As we highlighted in our blog on the company’s January 2018 proposal, the plan provides a framework that enables the cost of fully replacing LSLs, whether owned by the utility or by customers, to be shared by its 300,000 customers. As far as we know, this is the first comprehensive, voluntary LSL replacement program developed by an investor-owned utility in the country.

In its plan, American Water cited both long-term health and economic benefits that would be realized from avoiding partial replacements when rehabilitating water mains and laterals. The plan showed that having a single contractor handle the entire line reduces the overall cost by 25 t0 30%. It also avoids the likely increased risk of consumer’s exposure to lead when only part of the lead pipe is replaced.

IURC’s approval found the plan “to be reasonable and in the public interest.” Even though the customer will continue to own the service line, American Water will be allowed to add the cost to remove and replace the customer-owned portion to the value of the utility’s property. The increase would be considered an infrastructure improvement cost once the new service line is placed into service.

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Lead service line inventories – Indiana as a good model of a voluntary survey

Tom Neltner, Lindsay McCormick, and Audrey McIntosh

This blog is part of a series focused on how states are handling the essential task of developing inventories of lead service lines (LSLs) and making them public. The first blog identified 14 states that were taking on the issue: 4 with mandatory programs and 10 with voluntary. The second blog described programs in four states that mandate an inventory. In this blog, we highlight Indiana’s 2016 voluntary survey of utilities operating community water systems (CWSs) as a model because it ask utilities to: 1) identify who owns the line and provide the legal basis for that claim; and 2) rate its confidence in its estimates on a 1 to 10 scale. 

We found no other state survey asked about LSL ownership even though it is a central question in determining who is expected to pay for replacement. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) recommended[1] in 2015 that the agency require utilities to provide states this information as part of a revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). Unfortunately, 43% of the 781 CWS did not respond to Indiana’s survey, revealing a serious limitation of voluntary surveys.

In January 2016, a month before EPA encouraged states to develop an inventory of LSLs and make it available to the public, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) sent a two-page survey to utilities that operate CWSs in the state asking about drinking water service lines. The agency posted scanned PDF copies of the individual responses online but has not yet released a summary.[2]

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